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Motion graphs and derivatives - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Motion graphs and derivatives

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In mechanics, the derivative of the position vs. time graph of

an object is equal to the velocity of the object. In the
International System of Units, the position of the moving
object is measured in meters relative to the origin, while the
time is measured in seconds. Placing position on the y-axis
and time on the x-axis, the slope of the curve is given by:

Here is the position of the object, and is the time.

Therefore, the slope of the curve gives the change in position
(in metres) divided by the change in time (in seconds), which
is the definition of the average velocity (in meters per second
) for that interval of time on the graph. If this interval is
made to be infinitesimally small, such that
becomes , the result is the instantaneous velocity
at time , or the derivative of the position with respect to time.

The green line shows the slope of the

velocity-time graph at the particular
point where the two lines touch. Its
slope is the acceleration at that point.

A similar fact also holds true for the velocity vs. time graph. The slope of a velocity vs. time graph is
acceleration, this time, placing velocity on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. Again the slope of a line
is change in over change in :

Where is the velocity, measured in , and is the time measured in seconds. This slope therefore
defines the average acceleration over the interval, and reducing the interval infinitesimally gives ,
the instantaneous acceleration at time , or the derivative of the velocity with respect to time (or the
second derivative of the position with respect to time). The units of this slope or derivative are in
meters per second per second ( , usually termed "meters per second-squared"), and so, therefore, is
the acceleration.
Since the velocity of the object is the derivative of the position graph, the area under the line in the
velocity vs. time graph is the displacement of the object. (Velocity is on the y-axis and time on the
x-axis. Multiplying the velocity by the time, the seconds cancel out and only meters remain.
The same multiplication rule holds true for acceleration vs. time graphs. When
time (s), velocity is obtained. (

is multiplied by

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Motion graphs and derivatives - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Variable rates of change

The expressions given above apply only when the rate of
change is constant or when only the average (mean) rate of
change is required. If the velocity or positions change
non-linearly over time, such as in the example shown in the
figure, then differentiation provides the correct solution.
Differentiation reduces the time-spans used above to be
extremely small (infinitesimal) and gives a velocity or
acceleration at each point on the graph rather than between a
start and end point. The derivative forms of the above
equations are

Since acceleration differentiates the expression involving

position, it can be rewritten as a second derivative with
respect to time:

In this example, the yellow area

represents the displacement of the
object as it moves. (The distance can
be measured by taking the absolute
value of the function.) The three green
lines represent the values for
acceleration at different points along
the curve.

Since, for the purposes of mechanics such as this, integration is the opposite of differentiation, it is
also possible to express position as a function of velocity and velocity as a function of acceleration.
The process of determining the area under the curve, as described above, can give the displacement
and change in velocity over particular time intervals by using definite integrals:

See also
Displacement (vector)


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Motion graphs and derivatives - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Wolfson, Richard; Jay M. Pasachoff (1999). Physics for Scientists and Engineers (3rd ed. ed.).
Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley. pp. 2338. ISBN 0-321-03571-2.

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Categories: Classical mechanics
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